I have been reading C. S. Lewis for almost sixteen years now, but it was recently that I began delving into the many books written by his friend, Owen Barfield. Differences between the two writers are quickly apparent. It would not be quite fair to point to Lewis’ lucid prose style, as it is doubtful whether any other writer of this century has a style in discursive writing that would stand close comparison with Lewis. But it is true that for most of us Barfield is difficult to read. I tend to think that it is not just a matter of style, though. Barfield's subject matter is difficult, as his subjects are often philosophical in nature. However, the greatest difficulty with reading Barfield is that he makes us stretch our thoughts (or thinking, as he would say) to the limit. He makes us learn something new--not just something new about old ideas, but entirely new things.
I don't know a much higher compliment to make about a writer. Lewis, reviewing one of Barfield's books, said, "it is a book which cannot be safely neglected, and which no one will read without feeling that windows have been opened and that strange airs are stirring in the room, perhaps without murmuring like Criseyde, 'Who gaf me drink?'"1 The same could be said for most of Barfield's work. I want to make clear from the outset my gratitude to Barfield for "expanding my consciousness" of myself and of the world.
However, one reason I neglected Barfield's books for so long was the fact that I often felt a general feeling of unease when reading some of his articles, particularly, but not exclusively, those that referred to Lewis. For example, on reading his "Introduction" to Light on C. S. Lewis, it was not clear to me what he was talking about. We all know people whom it is clear we have offended, but we can never figure out in what way. My unease felt like that; I wondered what Barfield was not telling us.
Barfield, himself, talks of being "bothered" by some of Lewis’ thinking, for example by his dismissal of Historicism.2 He appears to think Lewis is inconsistent, not only at times, but in a major way. Other writers (primarily those discussing both Lewis and Barfield) make the same charge--that Lewis is confused and inconsistent. Some go even further.
As an example, Lionel Adey in his book on the "Great War" between Lewis and Barfield says,
Let me express a conviction that the traditional "scheme of salvation" and once-for-all discontinuous and exclusive revelation are unlikely to regain their power over the heart of Western man. . . .The convergence of mystical traditions . . . Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi . . . and the search for a new formulation of the Christian faith, with or without images, reflects a continuing process of religious experience and response, while Lewis’ theology remains essentially static, a case, theologically speaking, of arrested development.3
With such an entirely unsympathetic approach to Lewis’ viewpoint, it could be expected that Adey would mistake some of the features of that viewpoint. And, indeed, he has made a number of errors concerning it. This is true of other writers, as well. Usually, the mistakes are minor, but two major errors have been made by all. First, they have not understood how Lewis’ epistemology changed after his conversion. This is due to their second error. They argue with Lewis’ epistemology without considering the metaphysics it was based upon. That is, they argue "how we know" without noting Lewis’ view of "what we are." This is especially crucial in Lewis’ case, because the metaphysical base for his epistemology was remarkably different after he became a Christian.
When writing his Summae Metaphysices Contra Anthroposophos, Lewis did not make the same mistake as his commentators.4 He starts with a discussion of "Being," the title for the first "book". He makes three proposals in the first three sections. First, the world can only be known by sense perceptions in his mind, and, as there are no grounds for knowing that the world exists elsewhere, the "world" must be in his mind. Second, other souls appear to share the same world, and, as he does not want to accept a multiplicity of worlds with the same events occurring by "mere brute coincidence," other souls must be in his mind. But, third, the mind has memory and a history, presupposing time, and the mind can err, presupposing some external source of truth, both implying that his mind is part of the world. Therefore, he says, "my mind is included in my mind," a paradox. To solve this, he then proposes to call the mind that includes all, "Spirit," "what I really am", and the mind that is included, "soul". We can diagram thus:
Since Lewis talks about the soul "emerging" or being "projected" from Spirit, we can better diagram it thus:
Later, Lewis states that to observe one another, souls "must appear in a common neutral system of space and time; so matter cannot be malleable to the will of each soul." Therefore, we return, he says, to the original conception of a soul, as a "myself" which is only an "episode" in the larger reality that creates it, and can say that there is a real world outside our own souls. But, we now know this world is the "creation of what I, at some level, am." (Note that Lewis uses the word "create" in the same sense of "emergence" or "evolution.") We can diagram his conception more completely, then:
Lewis goes on to explain both how Spirit creates soul and the soul creates itself. When Spirit "enjoys" a soul, it creates it; when Spirit ceases to do so, it "annihilates" it. But, he says, "Every soul creates itself, or voluntarily maintains its own separateness from Spirit at every moment. . . . An element in Spirit which did not affirm its own nature . . . would forthwith efface itself even as a latent element in the Spirit. A fortiori, therefore, it would not emerge from Spirit as soul."
So far, Barfield agreed: he wrote "concedo" under each point. Later in the "Great War," Barfield said that he came to realize "by reflection on the difference between feeling and thought that "I," while remaining one of the parts, must also be in some sense the Whole."5 So Lewis and Barfield held a similar view of the nature of the world and man. They agreed, at least for purposes of argument, on metaphysics, what we ore. They differed on epistemology, how we know.
Shortly before writing his Summa, Lewis had come across a very important concept. He had read in Alexander's Space, Time and Deity of his distinction between "Enjoyment" and "Contemplation". As Lewis said in his autobiography,
When you see a table you "enjoy" the act of seeing and "contemplate" the table. Later, if you took up Optics and thought about Seeing itself, you would be contemplating the seeing and enjoying the thought. . . . I accepted this distinction at once and have ever since regarded it as an indispensable tool of thought. . . . This was not merely a logical result of Alexander's analysis, but could be verified in daily and hourly experience.
This concept--this distinction--became the cornerstone for Lewis’ theory of knowledge, and Lewis incorporated it into his Summa.
He says, "The Spirit is pure subject and can only be enjoyed, never contemplated." (Barfield's first "Nego" is written here.) Souls can only "contemplate" each other, not "enjoy" each other, except by relapsing into Spirit and ceasing to be souls. Lewis felt this provided a way to refute the claims of Anthroposophy, and of Barfield's view of poetic imagination as a way to true knowledge. Three points in the first part of the Summa are directed against Anthroposophy, and all follow from this enjoyment/contemplation distinction.
First, if there are intermediaries between soul and Spirit, as Anthroposophy teaches, we can never know them or contemplate them. They would be outside our world. He goes on to develop his now famous analogy of Hamlet's relationship to Shakespeare. Just as Hamlet cannot know Shakespeare, Shakespeare (or Barfield or Lewis) cannot know any intermediaries, or know Spirit itself. Years later, Lewis said,
There is no possibility of being in a personal relation with Him. For I thought He projected us as a dramatist projects his characters, and I could no more "meet" Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare. I didn't call Him "God" either; I called Him "Spirit."
His second point was that there can be "no communication between inhabitants of different worlds." Souls cannot ascend to higher levels without ceasing to remain a soul. Third, therefore, the belief in Anthroposophy of souls being able to leave their bodies to explore other worlds is "absurd," since in doing so the soul would be leaving our world and, again, it would cease to remain a soul.
The second "book" of the Summa, entitled "Value," attempts to deal with the question of man's highest Good. Lewis places Morality and Imagination at the top, and in discussing the latter, his theory of "how we know" can be seen to rest firmly on the enjoyment/contemplation distinction developed in the first "book."
Lewis appears to recognize immediately the major problem with his view of Being. If all things are Spirit, he points out that the term "Spiritual" cannot be applied as an attribute to any particular fact in experience, as it would be true of all facts. Also, the "Spiritual" cannot be the soul's relapse into Spirit, as there would be no soul, then, to which the attribute "Spiritual" could be applied. Yet, he wanted to keep the term as a useful term of approval for a "higher" or "better" life.
He develops two analogies, in much the same style as his later apologetics. The first is of a game with the rules made by the players beforehand. The rules may not always be the "temporary will" of the players, but they at times will realize that they are their "more permanent will." The players may describe these moments of "recognition of authorship" by the term "Spiritual." The second analogy is of an orchestra of composers who collaborated in writing and then playing a piece of music. In the difficult parts, they would concentrate on the score and conductor, but in the easier passages, they could relax and while still playing, realize their authorship.
Therefore, for Lewis at this time, becoming more spiritual was a reawakening consciousness of participation in Spirit.
I thought the business of us finite and half-unreal souls was to multiply the consciousness of Spirit by seeing the world from different positions while yet remaining qualitatively the same as Spirit; to be tied to a particular time and place and set of circumstances, yet there to will and think as Spirit itself does.
In the Summa, Lewis says, "The approximation of souls to their qualitative equality with the consciousness of Spirit constitutes their spirituality." He goes on to describe the "modes" of the spiritual life in this sense, and includes Science, History, Art, Philosophy, Charity, Morality, and, finally, Imagination.
Imagination may . . . appear to us as a rediscovery, as if we came home after a long exile; because we are indeed coming to recognize that we are Spirit and are everywhere in our own country and our own house. Or it may appear to us as a longing which is also fruition, and a losing which is also a keeping, because we then veritably become aware of our dual nature and our division from ourself, which are at once the Spirit that possesses all and the soul that is abandoning that possession. To others it will appear that we have failings from us and vanishings and that the outward world becomes a prospect in the mind; justly, for we are then pure Spirit so far as we go (for we are still limited, else would not be soul) and all is in our mind. Or it may seem to be simply a kind of love for the object, because we are its creator and will it into being. Others feel that what seemed dead things are charged with life, and people the hills and trees with vague personality: nor are they wrong, for we share the life of the Spirit which knows itself alive beneath all its vesture. But all alike know that such moments are our highest life. For their continuation would be the redemption of the world. . . . This highest form of the spiritual life I call Imagination.6
Later, in his Surprised by Joy, Lewis linked Imagination with Joy, and said that he previously had believed that,
Its visitations were . . . the moments of clearest consciousness we had, when we became aware of our fragmentary and phantasmal nature and ached for that impossible reunion which would annihilate us or that self-contradictory waking which would reveal, not that we had had, but that we were, a dream. This seemed quite satisfactory intellectually. Even emotionally too. . . .
Elsewhere in the Summa, Lewis says Imagination is "the activity of discerning as Spirit" or "the point of view of Spirit." This is summed up as "seeing as Spirit sees" and "willing as Spirit wills."
However, after a short discussion of symbol, myth, and metaphor, Lewis makes the statement that the truth of what we have experienced through myth and metaphor must be objectively demonstrated by "empirical inquiry." In other words, Lewis felt that since we cannot both "enjoy" poetic imagination and "contemplate" it to find out whether what we experience is true or not, we are unable to get knowledge of truth from Imagination.
But, we must note that Lewis has capitalized this word as Imagination and not just for emphasis. He means something more than the concept of imagination, uncapitalized. He has tried to say that Imagination is "seeing as Spirit sees," while maintaining that soul "emerges" from this Spirit. Is, then, a denial of truth to this Imagination (capitalized) defensible?
Barfield did not think so.
In his Replicit Anthroposophus Barfidus and Autem, Barfield had a number of points of distinction or refinement to bring up about the Summa, but the main points were these.7 First, Lewis in the talks of Imagination as "seeing all things as Spirit sees" or viewing all things in their context, and he asks us to strive for this. But this must involve "ascent" from contemplation to "con-enjoyment", neither contemplation alone nor enjoyment alone, but somewhere in between. Second, Lewis talks of thinking and willing, but ignores feeling. According to the Summa, as Spirit contemplates, it thinks, and as soul enjoys, it wills. But, Barfield says, between these two, as between Spirit and soul, an intermediary is needed--Feeling. We can diagram it:
In other words, Barfield appears to be saying that the soul's emergence from Spirit is not the whole story. During Imagination we "ascend" back toward Spirit while remaining soul. The relationship between Spirit and soul is not in one direction only, but in two, allowing for a true interaction between Spirit and soul.
Barfield goes on to identify feeling with self-consciousness. "All my conscious experience as a human being depends upon some degree of what is . . . called feeling," and "all conscious experience then, depends on the "state of strain" between thinking and willing." This "state of strain" is then developed into the concept (very important for Barfield later) of "polarity," as in electricity, with Barfield further arguing that for the living animate world, the "static" concept of Being is not adequate. We need a concept of Becoming.
Therefore, since Imagination or poetic awareness is moving back toward Spirit, or "seeing as Spirit sees," or at least comes from a "state of strain" between Spirit and soul emerging from Spirit, how can Lewis say it is not awareness or imagination of Truth? How can Lewis say it is not real knowledge? Barfield points out that there is a difference between poetic awareness and "occult" awareness as it is discussed in Anthroposophy. Both involve ascent, he says, from contemplation to 'con-enjoyment". But, where poetic awareness can only "feel" or "sense" truth, occult awareness can "consciously express" it, because it knows it to be true. This, of course, required training, and we are directed to Rudolf Steiner for more information.
Let me summarize the argument so far. Lewis in the Summa proposed:
1. me soul emerges from Spirit, of which it is a part.
2. We cannot both enjoy and contemplate at the same time, for the Spirit is the contemplating self and the soul is the enjoying self.
3. But we can, by Imagination, "see all things as Spirit sees," and "will all things as Spirit wills," and we should do so.
4. However, since we cannot both enjoy Imagination and contemplate whether it is true at the same time, knowledge of truth must be objectively demonstrated.
5. Therefore, we cannot get truth by Imagination.
Barfield in his Replicit and Autem pointed out:
1. Viewing all things as Spirit in their context must mean ascending from contemplation to "con-enjoyment", moving in consciousness back toward Spirit while remaining soul.
2. This must mean we see Truth, or what else could "seeing as Spirit sees" mean?
3. In other words, since Lewis’ points #1 and #3 contradict point #2, point #2 is wrong. Enjoyment and contemplation are not mutually exclusive.
4. Therefore, we do get truth and knowledge from Imagination.
Now, in my opinion, Barfield's argument is sound. It seems to be unanswerable from within his and Lewis’ system. It is not clear how much Lewis understood this at the time. Years later, he tells that his view of the Spiritual life was "daily and hourly to remember our true nature, to reascend or return into that Spirit which, in so far as we really were at all, we still were." In the "Great War" letters, Lewis certainly tried to answer Barfield's argument, but we do not have time to show how, nor to evaluate the effectiveness of Lewis’ attempts, here. The point I am trying to make here is that Lewis eventually got out of the system.
Lewis felt the truth of the enjoyment/contemplation distinction too strongly to deny it on the basis of his points #1 and #3. Instead, he eventually denied them on the basis of #2, the enjoyment/contemplation distinction. He could never accept a belief that would deny the Law of Contradiction. He dashed off a Note with that title. At the bottom, he adds that one must not apply the concept of Being where that of Becoming is needed. "What is contradictory when approached with the wrong concepts may prove coherent when we have hit on the right concepts."
This is very perceptive, but at the time, Lewis was not following his own advice. He was trying to argue epistemology using concepts of Being, while developing metaphysics on the basis of a concept of Becoming. Or, to put it in a clearer light, he professed to believe man is a soul resulting from an evolution or emergence from Spirit, but tried to argue a theory of knowledge that needed, as its base, the concept that man is "other" than Spirit. In fact, instead of evolution from Spirit, Lewis needed creation by God.
But Lewis was not even a Theist, much less a Christian, yet. We all know the story, how Spirit began to act like a Person, and to close in on him, demanding total surrender. "The demand was not even 'All or nothing '. . . the demand was simply, 'All."' Lewis finally "gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed. Significantly, he points out that this was his conversion to Theism. "I knew nothing yet about the Incarnation. The God to whom I surrendered was sheerly nonhuman." His intellectual belief in an evolving Spirit had been replaced by a surrender to a "sheerly nonhuman" creator God.
Lewis eventually accepted Christianity with its doctrine of the Incarnation. Understood correctly, these two concepts, Creation and Incarnation, were the basis for a whole new approach to metaphysics. They cut Lewis off from his view during the "Great War". They also cut him off from Anthroposophy.
In a letter in 1942 to A. C. Harwood, an Anthroposophical friend, Lewis said, "I think the real difference between us is on a more general topic. . . . I don't think that a conception of creatureliness is a part of your philosophy at all, and your system is anthropocentric. That’s the real 'great divide.'"8
So what was Lewis’ metaphysics after his conversion to Christianity? Space prohibits documentation of each point, but each of the following can be found in his post-conversion work. Note especially his "Appendix A" to Miracles, the main body of Miracles, and The Problem of Pain; however, virtually every major work, and many of the minor ones, contain references to support this view of the world and man. I am in the process of collecting these for a future study.
First, Lewis came to believe in a true doctrine of Creation, whereby God is outside of, and man a part of, that creation. Thus man is completely "other" than God; man is not a part of nor emerging from God, but is an "image" of God. Second, Lewis describes this created world as holding both a Nature and a Supernature within it, and further describes Nature as containing both a material and an immaterial part. Elements or beings found in all three "worlds" may be good or evil.
Third, Lewis considered man a tripartite being, sharing in all three worlds through a spirit, soul, and body. As neither our Reason nor our moral sense of "ought" can be explained from within Nature, they must not be a part of Nature, but a part of Supernature. Man has these because he is a spirit, and participates in Supernature via his spirit. Man is also a soul, a psychological being with emotions, passions, memory, and imagination, and man is also a body, of course, participating in the physical world. We can now diagram his post-conversion view like this:
Of course, there are enormous implications for epistemology, how we know what we know, when starting from this metaphysical base. There is no time to delve into that fascinating topic. The relevant points for this paper are: l) Lewis moved the spirit of man from being God (Spirit) to being a part of creation made by God; capitalized Spirit became a small spirit. 2) With man being a body, soul, and spirit, therefore, Lewis no longer considered imagination to be "Spiritual", but psychological, and moved imagination to the psyche; capitalized Imagination became small imagination.
An important reference supporting this (because written late in his life) is in Surprised by Joy. "I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least. 'Reflect' is the important word. This lower life of the imagination is not a beginning, nor a step toward, the higher life of the spirit, merely an image." Much more should be presented to document that the views above are actually Lewis’, and to follow the implications raised, but that will have to be presented another time.
In closing, I would like to raise again the problem of Lewis’ short story, "The Man Born Blind." A proper understanding of his pre-Christian metaphysics during the later part of the "Great War" can reduce much of the confusion surrounding this story.
This is the story of a young blind man, Robin, who has always heard others speak about light. When an operation gives him his eyesight for the first time, he expects to see the light. This becomes an obsession with him, although others try to tell him that light is what we see by; we don't see light itself. One day Robin sees the sun shining on fog in a quarry, mistakes it for the Light (note the capital) and plunges in--to his death on the quarry floor.
John Fitzpatrick, in the April, 1983, issue of the Bulletin, came close when he thought it was meant as a warning to Barfield (in spite of Barfield's comment in the June issue that the thought had never occurred to him). But it was not a realist Lewis attacking an idealist Barfield, for Lewis was already an idealist himself at the time. It was Lewis’ warning about idealism taken too far, so to speak. He was worried about Barfield's belief that one can (through Anthroposophical training) see Spirit, or intermediaries, as well as leave the body to explore other worlds, the main points of difference in the first part of the Summa. Convinced that one can not both be a soul "enjoying" Spirit (or poetic imagination) and "contemplate" it at the same time to judge its truth, Lewis wrote this story to show the grave danger of trying to see what is there to see by.
That this sort of thought was present in his mind during the "Great War", can be seen in the published drawings from the letters (e.g., see Images of His World). There, he again tries to show Barfield the folly of attempting to get beyond what we see by (a mirror) in order to seek "supersensible " awareness. In the drawings Lewis shows Barfield destroying the mirror in an attempt to see the reality that we can only see by means of the mirror. He also shows an ambulance, an asylum, and a cemetery as the end result.
With this understanding and interpretation, one can see why many have given Robin's story a Christian reading. Indeed, this story allows such a reading, because Lewis was moving toward Theism at the time, and eventually to Christianity. If my interpretation of the "Great War" materials is correct, Lewis was very close. His conviction of the truth and relevance of the enjoyment/contemplation distinction in the area of knowledge was already leading him to find that his view of the world and man was inadequate. He needed the concept of a true Creation to support the enjoyment/contemplation distinction, arid he needed the concept of the Incarnation to overcome it. "The Man Born Blind" is not a Christian story, but by adding the Incarnation, it can become one.
Lewis’ review of Barfield's Romanticism Comes of Age is titled "'Who
gaf me Drink "' and was published in The Spectator, March 9, 1945,
2 Owen Barfield, "C. S. Lewis and Historicism," in CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society, VI, 10 (August 1975), 3-9.
3 Lionel Adey, C. S. Lewis’ "Great War" with Owen Barfield (Victoria, B.C., Canada: University of Victoria, 1978), 119-120.
4 My study of the Great War materials took place at both the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the Wade Collection, Wheaton, Ill. Permission to quote unpublished material has been granted by the C. S. Lewis Estate and Owen Barfield.
5 From the unpublished "De Toto et Parte", part of the Great War materials.
6 Quoted in Adey's "The Barfield-Lewis 'Great War'," CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society, VI, 10 (August 1975), 12.
7 I have not differentiated which points are found in which of Barfield's replies to the Summa.
8 Harwood, "C. S. Lewis and Anthroposophy," CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society, V, 4. (February 1974), 4.